Defending champs Germany look to become the third team to win back-to-back World Cups, but how will the favourites tag affect Die Mannschaft?
The ESPN FC crew share their thoughts on Raf Honigstein’s strongest XI for Germany at the World Cup.
Joachim Low has a deep German squad with World Cup winning experience. Ian Darke leads the discussion as to why the Germans may once again be favourites.
Here are the players that most helped Germany waltz through World Cup qualifying and who will be called on to defend their title.
Germany coach Joachim Low says his players are “on fire for the World Cup” and that he has a “very good feeling” going into the tournament in Russia.
Die Mannschaft will start the defence of their trophy at Russia 2018 against Mexico in Moscow on June 17 as they look to progress from Group F, which also includes Sweden and South Korea, and Low says his squad’s desire is as high as it was four years ago.
“I have a very good feeling,” Low said at the team’s training camp in South Tyrol, Italy. “I don’t know what will happen with this golden generation after the tournament. It’s possible there will be a break-up. But all the players are on fire for the World Cup.
“I don’t have to coax new craving or new enthusiasm from the players. The craving and ambition are still there, even among those who became world champions.”
Tougher challenges are likely to await should Germany, one of the perennial pre-tournament favourites, later plot a safe passage towards a return to the Luzhniki Stadium for the final on July 15.
But winger Marco Reus believes the squad have the credentials to go all the way once again.
“Going into the World Cup as reigning champions is obviously never easy,” he said. “I’m sure that if the team finds its rhythm and takes on board the way we want to play, there’s a lot going in Germany’s favour.
“But there’s also no point in already speculating about who we could face in the quarter-finals. No one should underestimate our group with Mexico, South Korea and Sweden, as a lot will be demanded of us in those games.
“Over the course of the tournament, we’ll definitely have to win at least one or two really close games that will be decided by centimetres or an individual. But that’s what football is all about, especially at a World Cup. As a player, I want to be on the pitch for those kinds of games.”
Reus marked his return from a long-term injury with seven goals in 11 games for Dortmund — and he intends to make a major impact with Germany at the World Cup.
“I definitely want to help the team on the pitch. When the tournament starts, I’ll be 29. I know what I’m capable of,” Reus added. “The coach will decide who plays and every player has to respect his decisions. Like in every tournament, for every individual and for us as a team, it’ll come down to fine details.”
Manuel Neuer trains with Germany on Thursday.
Germany’s only real worries concern the fitness of captain Manuel Neuer, defender Jerome Boateng and midfielder Mesut Ozil. Neuer hasn’t played since September with a hairline fracture in his left foot after being injured in training. Boateng is still recovering from a thigh injury sustained in the Champions League semifinals.
Ozil missed Arsenal’s last few games of the season with back problems, but team doctor Hans-Wilhelm Mueller-Wohlfahrt gave him the green light to start training with the team and he was to decide Friday if Boateng should stay in Munich for further treatment or join the squad.
“We don’t want to make any mistakes,” Low said of Boateng. “I think he’ll be able to at least take part in some team training next week.”
Neuer, too, is being given every chance to prove his fitness. Low named four goalkeepers in his 27-man preliminary squad and is hoping that the 32-year-old Neuer won’t be the one sent home before FIFA’s June 4 deadline for final squads to be submitted.
“He can tolerate all the strains, even the most strenuous strains like jumping,” Low said. “If he has the feeling he can perform at 100 percent he can be at the World Cup.”
Barcelona’s Marc-Andre ter Stegen, who will keep the No. 1 spot if Neuer doesn’t recover fully, was to join the rest of the squad on Friday, along with Bayern’s Hummels, Mueller, Joshua Kimmich and Niklas Suele, as well as Chelsea defender Antonio Rudiger.
Low’s squad prepare for friendlies against Austria on June 2 and Saudi Arabia on June 8, though the manager is also hoping the camp boosts team sprirt.
“It’s clear to everyone that the training camp is to get the required strength and power for the tournament. The fuel has to be there,” said Low, who also hopes it boosts team spirit. “Everyone has to know that he is just a puzzle piece for success. Nobody can be world champion on their own.”
Germany’s general manager Oliver Bierhoff warned that there can be no complacency from the squad in Russia.
“We all feel like doing something great, but the team is aware this will be the toughest World Cup, because we will be the hunted,” he said at a news conference on Friday. “Every other team can only win against us, and will enjoy putting us on the back foot. We can only survive in Russia if we start with a clear objective from day one.”
Information from The Associated Press and Press Association was used in this report.